By Tom Price Jr.
All year long fumbles and interceptions have hurt the Exeter Monarchs. On Friday, they fumbled away an opportunity to knock off the East Sequoia League's hottest team, Orosi, and possibly hopes of keeping a playoff birth alive.
Trailing 32-28, Exeter seemed headed for victory with a first-and-goal from the Orosi 10-yard-line.
After two attempts by runningback Denno Daly to break the goaline and one from Josh Edmunds failed, they moved wide receiver Cory Griffin to tailback for the fourth down play from the two yard line.
Griffin fumbled the exchange and Orosi recovered near the goaline.
"These guys played their hearts out … you know, guys don't try to fumble the ball," Exeter coach Robert Dougherty said. "Games like this are real hard to take no matter how many times you go through it."
Orosi's goaline stand was setup by a spectacular catch by Exeter wide receiver Eric Capello.
Facing a fourth-and-15 on the Orosi 42-yard-line, Capello went across the middle and made a leaping catch before being leveled by Orosi's Frankie Monquero.
After laying motionless on his back for a moment, Capello jumped to his feet and slapped the ball with excitement.
Utilizing short passes and pounding runs from Daly, Exeter drove down to the goaline setting up the fateful stand.
"They worked their butts off during the week and to lose a heartbreaker like that … it could have been a great win," Dougherty said. "It kills you, they played real hard and you hate to see them down."
Another Exeter turnover ended their first attempt at a go-ahead drive. And once again a spectacular play preceded the turnover.
Facing a fourth-and-11 from the Orosi 44-yard-line Branch threw into double-coverage, but Griffin leaped above the defenders and pulled down the ball with one outstretched arm. On the very next play Daly fumbled the ball and Orosi recovered.
Exeter received another strong performance from Branch and their core of receivers, but also had some pleasant performances in the running game.
Despite the fumble, Daly contributed in all of Exeter's scoring drives and provided some much needed balance against one of the league's stingiest defenses.
"We thought we were going to run on them, so we put in a little run package," Dougherty said.
"We thought they were going to take away our pass, which they kind of did. I wanted to throw the ball the first half and run it the second. The plan worked okay."
Daly carried the ball 15 time for 91 yards.
Exeter trailed 26-7 in the second quarter and were sparked by three special teams plays that led to the comeback.
Griffin returned a kickoff 76 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter and Exeter recovered a kickoff after Orosi return man Brian Marquez let the ball roll to a stop on the two yard line and let Exeter recover it thinking it would be a dead ball as in punt situations.
Exeter would once again come up big on special teams when Jeff Munsch blew through the Orosi line on a punt from the Orosi goaline and deflected the ball straight into the air.
"I went outside their guy and he didn't even block me," Munsch said. "It was the happiest feeling in the world."
The ball would fall directly into the waiting hands of Kevin King in the endzone for a touchdown.
"When I saw the ball go in the air, I thought I gotta' get this I have to," King said. "That was my first touchdown in my whole football career, that was awesome."
Branch completed 13 passes for 193 yards.
Exeter will have to rebound against Lindsay on Friday in the first annual Orange Crate game in Lindsay.
Lindsay is winless in league but has played close with both Orosi and Woodlake.